West Hollywood, a city in Los Angeles County, California, was incorporated on November 29, 1984. It is bordered on the north by the Hollywood Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles, on the east by the Hollywood District of Los Angeles, on the west by the city of Beverly Hills, and on the south by the Fairfax District of Los Angeles.
West Hollywood has a distinctive street design scheme, with postmodern street signs featuring a blue map of the city. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicles that patrol West Hollywood feature the same map of the city, but in the rainbow colors of the gay community.
Because of the large gay population and the large numbers of gay-oriented businesses, West Hollywood became prominently known as a gay village. The section of Santa Monica Boulevard from La Cienega Boulevard to Robertson Boulevard, known as “boys’ town,” is among the most popular gay neighborhoods in the world, with numerous well-known spots such as the nightclubs Rage and Mickys (now closed due to fire that consumed the building) and newer bars/restaurants such as Eleven and East|West Lounge.
Alta Loma Road is also home to the exclusive hotel “The Sunset Marquis” with its famous 45-person Whisky Bar and a recording studio that has been the home to many hits. Alta Loma Road was one of the main locations for the film erfect. Actor Sal Mineo lived on this street in the 1970s; he was murdered in his carport just around the corner from Alta Loma Road on Holloway Drive.
The western stretch of Melrose Avenue, between Fairfax Avenue and Doheny Drive, is notable for its trendy clothing boutiques, interior design shops, restaurants and antique stores. The west end of Melrose, near the Pacific Design Center, is especially known for its exclusive furniture.
The area around Fountain Avenue, Harper Avenue and Havenhurst Drive contains a high concentration of landmark 1920s Spanish Revival and Art Deco apartment buildings by such noted architects as Leland Bryant. This historic district has been home to many celebrities and at one time the Sunset Tower at 8358 Sunset Boulevard was home to Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn, the Gabor Sisters, John Wayne and Howard Hughes.
The Robertson/West 3rd Street area is another area in West Hollywood with hip shops and cafés.
Most historical writings about West Hollywood began in the late 18th century with European colonization when the Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo arrived offshore and claimed the region for Spain. However, the land was already inhabited. Around 5,000 of the indigenous inhabitants from the Tongva tribe canoed out to greet Juan Cabrillo. The Tongva tribe were a nation of gentle hunter-gatherers known for their reverence of dancing and courage. By 1771 the indigenous people were almost wiped out by disease while being forcibly acculturated by the Spanish mission system. The Spanish mission system changed their tribal name to “Gabrielinos”, in reference to the Mission de San Gabriel that ravaged their culture and took over their land.
By 1780, what became the “Sunset Strip” was the major connecting road for El Pueblo de Los Angeles and all ranches westward to the Pacific Ocean. The land went through various owners and names in the next one hundred years, with names such as La Brea and Plummer listed in the historical record. Most of the area was part of the Rancho La Brea, and eventually came under the ownership of the Hancock family.
In the last years of the nineteenth century, the first large development in what would become West Hollywood — the town of Sherman — was established by Moses Sherman and his partners in the Los Angeles and Pacific Railway, an interurban line which would become part of the Pacific Electric Railway system. Sherman became the location of the railroad’s main shops, yards and car barns. Many working-class employees of the railroad took up residence in the town. It was during this time that the city began to earn its reputation as a loosely-regulated, liquor-friendly spot for eccentric people wary of government interference. The town chose not to incorporate with Los Angeles and instead adopted “West Hollywood” as an informal name to borrow the glamour and celebrity from the new movie colony in Hollywood.
For many years, the area that is now the City of West Hollywood was an unincorporated area in the midst of the City of Los Angeles, but fell under the jurisdiction of Los Angeles County. Because gambling was illegal in the city of Los Angeles but legal in the county, the 1920s saw the proliferation of many nightclubs and casinos along the Sunset Strip (which starts and ends within West Hollywood borders) that did not fall within the Los Angeles city limits. As a result, these businesses were immune from the heavy-handed enforcement of the LAPD. (The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was and remains in charge of policing the district.)
Movie people were attracted to this less restricted county area and a number of architecturally fine apartment houses and apartment hotels were built. Movie fans throughout the world knew that Ciro’s, the Mocambo, the Trocadero, the Garden of Allah, the Chateau Marmont and the Formosa Cafe on Santa Monica Boulevard were places where movie stars could be seen.
Eventually, the area and its extravagant night spots lost favor with movie people. But the Strip and its restaurants, bars and clubs continued to be an attraction for locals and out-of-town tourists. In the late 1960s, the Strip was transformed again during the hippie movement which brought a thriving music publishing industry coupled with “hippie” culture. Young people from all over the country flocked to West Hollywood clubs such as the Whisky a Go Go, Barney’s Beanery, Filthy McNasty’s, The Rainbow, and the Troubadour.
Emboldened by the Stonewall Riots of 1969, gays from all over Los Angeles flocked to West Hollywood with many fleeing from the homophobic harassment of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). West Hollywood was still unincorporated and so it was patrolled by the markedly less brutal Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
The most recent migration to West Hollywood came about after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when thousands of Russian Jews immigrated to the city. A majority of the 5,000 to 6,000 Russian Jews settled in two major immigration waves, 1978-79 and 1988-92. Approximately 13 percent of the current city population is Russian-speaking.
In 1984, residents in West Hollywood organized to maintain rent control. When the County of Los Angeles began planning to dismantle rent control West Hollywood was a densely-populated area of renters, many of whom would not be able to afford to keep up with the rapid rises in rent. A tight coalition of seniors, Jews, gays and renters were greatly assisted by the Community for Economic Survival (CES) and they swiftly voted to incorporate as the City of West Hollywood. West Hollywood then immediately adopted one of the strongest rent control laws in the nation.